Shrapnel

The confetti from the explosion filled his chest. There was still room for his lungs and his heart and his liver and so forth, but the formerly roomy spaces were clogged with shrapnel. The wounds in his flesh healed over the pieces of twisted steel and bent aluminum and chipped pieces of ceramic. Scar tissue grew to surround the sharp edges of jagged nails and deformed ball-bearings, saving him from opening old wounds or creating new ones when he walked. All in all, he was lucky to be alive and able to get around on his own. But it wasn’t easy. He was in constant pain, though he had gotten used to it during the sixteen months since the bombing. But his anger had not subsided. Not even a little. He wanted nothing more than to find the bastard who detonated that bomb and rip the man’s face from his demented head. Assuming it was a man. And he did. He didn’t think a woman could have done such a monstrous thing. Sixty-one children died in the blast. In his mind, no woman could have killed so many children. It was unthinkable.

Pelvin Cartermore had been a Marine in his younger years. After his six years of service, he finished his bachelor’s degree and found work as a technical writer for an automobile glass manufacturing company outside Detroit. He worked for Pane Autoglass for nineteen years. Then, at age forty-nine, he was let go as part of a downsizing. Shortly thereafter, Pane Autoglass declared bankruptcy. Pelvin’s pension, which would have kept him comfortable in retirement, turned to vapor. His age and the economy conspired to keep him unemployed while his life’s savings dwindled to nothing. His house was repossessed by the mortgage company and, six months later, he was evicted for nonpayment of rent from the apartment he leased after losing the house. Fortunately for him, his 2002 Honda Civic was paid for, so he had a place to sleep at night.

And then came the bombing. The attack, obviously, was aimed at the family planning clinic on the building’s third floor. The daycare centers’ charges on the first floor—children cared for by five co-ops operated by young mothers who just wanted a safe place for their toddlers to learn and grow—were simply collateral damage. So was Pelvin Cartermore. And so were sixteen other people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time that rainy, cold January day in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The utter chaos of that awful morning was never far from Pelvin’s mind. Cold, grey, rain swept skies often triggered his memories of the event. It was as if a switch was tripped when he drew the blinds on a dull winter day. Instantly, he relived the experience.

“Dr. Davis,” Pelvin said, “will this prevent her from having children?” He was referring to Melanie’s, his friend’s, diagnosis of endometriosis.

“That depends on a number of factors, but in Melanie’s case, it’s not likely, especially if she gets pregnant in the relative near-term. But, Melanie,” Dr. Davis said as she turned toward Melanie Grant, addressing her patient directly, “you’ll have to make some decis…..”

That’s when Pelvin’s world exploded into a monstrous whirlwind of chaos, destruction, pain, blood, dust, shattered glass, and death.  Melanie Grant and Dr. Lisa Davis died instantly. Pelvin Cartermore’s chest absorbed pieces of shrapnel. Surgeons later said they could not be removed without risking his life. Somehow, Pelvin remained conscious during the explosion and its aftermath. He remembered being dug out of the rubble a hour after the blast. He recalled being carried on a makeshift stretcher over blood-soaked pieces of broken sheetrock and bent metal wall studs. He could picture every detail in his mind, even though the event had taken place sixteen months earlier. Now, though, he was well enough to do more than reminisce about the most horrible day of his life. Now, he was prepared to do what the FBI and police and state agencies had been unable to do; he was ready to identify and find the bastard who had killed those children and his friend and her doctor and all the rest. He wanted justice for those people. And he would stop at nothing to get it.

***

Melanie Grant was Pelvin’s friend, but not his girlfriend. She was a young woman Pelvin met one day when he went running on Mt. Sequoyah Woods Trail. Mt. Sequoyah was a hiking trail, but Pelvin went there to run. Most mornings, after he awoke, he drove his old Civic to a trail head early in the morning and went for a run. Running was painful for Pelvin, but somehow cathartic, as well. Early one morning, he came upon Melanie Grant, sitting on a bench near the trail head. She rested her chin on her clasped hands. Even from a distance, he could see that her eyes were red and puffy.

“Good morning. You’re out early,” Pelvin called to her from a distance as he approached. He did not want to startle her by getting too close before he made his presence known.

Melanie’s reaction seemed odd to Pelvin. She didn’t jerk her head in his direction, the way one would expect of someone surprised by the presence of a stranger. She slowly turned her head in his direction and, just as slowly, raised her head so she could look in his direction.

“Yeah. It’s pretty early.”

“Are you all right?” Pelvin felt odd asking the question of someone whose face he had seen only for a few seconds, but he sensed that she wasn’t all right and might need some help.

“Fine. Just meditating.”

“Oh, okay. Do you mind if I stop here for a minute?”

“Nothing to stop you.”

—————

[This seems to be going nowhere. Stilted conversation; not even remotely real. I’m not sure it ever had a place to go. Just another vignette out of the ether. But maybe I can use it some day.]

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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